Sorry that it took a while to get this posted! I hope that you guys like everything! :-D


Chapter 20: Truth, Lies and Alibis


It was much earlier than either Liam or Red tended to rise, but they wanted time alone. He watched her move around the kitchen with an ease completely foreign to him, he'd never been handy in the kitchen–Dr. Whale had been partial to takeout, microwave dinners and meals at the diner. She placed plates loaded with eggs–scrambled with goat cheese for her and sunny-side up for him, their respective favorites–breakfast potatoes–she preferred pancakes but knew that he loved her potatoes–bacon and two large cups of coffee–blacker than night down for both of them.

Liam caught her hand before she sat down, reaching up to cup the back of her neck with his other palm and kiss her. "Thank you, Red."

A smirk curled her lips, though affection bled through the humor. "Well, if that's the thanks I get for simply making a meal then I might be persuaded to cook more often."

He chuckled, watching her sit down, knowing full-well that Red actually enjoyed cooking almost as much as archery competitions with Snow.

Hands cradling her cup, Red watched him eagerly dig into his breakfast. "How are you dealing?"

Blue eyes lifted to hazel ones, her expression and posture so familiar he couldn't help grinning. After regaining their memories in Storybrooke, Red was often found at Granny's counter listening to people's problems and trying to help.

"All right. It's…things have…settled down, in my mind and heart." He watched her for a few moments. "How've you always handled this so well? Both times? I know that most of us struggled to incorporate the other parts of ourselves, but you always just seemed to do it seamlessly."

Red turned the mug between her hands, a habit she and Snow shared, though neither could say who'd picked it up from whom. "It was…a shock at first, both times. But… I don't know." She shook her head, struggling to explain it. "I think…I think because of the…because of the wolf part of me. The experience of having to incorporate that part of myself, I think it helps me to be able to cope with additional lives and memories."

His eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense."

Grinning, she poured them both more coffee. "Granny actually suggested it, and since she seems to have the same ability to assimilate it like I can, I think it's probably accurate."

"You know," Liam reached across the table, letting his fingers entwine with hers, "that steadiness, that level-headedness, it's what draws people to the both of you. The way you two listen and understand, few have that." Blue eyes stared into hazel. "It's one of the things I love most about you."

Red's gaze dropped to the table, trying to fight back the blush creeping up her cheeks. "I thought it was Snow's prince's job to be charming."

He smirked cockily, love still alight in his eyes. "I have my moments."

Lips pursed, teasing lit her eyes. "Rare ones."


"Snow? Princess, where are you?"

Snow's eyes fluttered open, bleary gaze scanning her surroundings, attention drawn to the chill against her cheek. It took far longer than it should to realize that she was lying of the floor of the privy.

"Snow!" Worry rang in Lucy's voice.

"I'm in here!" she called out. "In here…"

"Are you all right?" Her maid's voice was louder, she must've been right outside the door.

"Yes… I'm fine…" Pressing the back of her hand to her forehead, Snow took a deep breath. "I'll be out in a few minutes."

She was fairly certain she heard doubt tingeing the inaudible mutters fading from the door.

Snow grimaced as she caught sight of the garderobe, remembering why she was there.

She practically had her head hanging over the garderobe, heaving her dinner up before she was actually aware she was conscious. After several long rounds of vomiting she finally collapsed on the floor, the cool stone of the floor felt heavenly against her feverish flesh.

Snow didn't remember anything after that, she must've passed out. She closed the cover on the garderobe, once again blessing the fact that her father had built one in each of their rooms rather than only having communal ones per floor. It would've been humiliating to be found in such a state outside of her quarters. Standing, she moved to the washstand, pouring the remaining water from the pitcher into the basin and splashing it on her face. As she pat her face dry with a hand towel, Snow felt much more alert; her emerald eyes opened and took in her reflection, she was paler than normal and there were shadows under her eyes. She'd always been so healthy, why had she been experiencing nausea so frequently? The princess frowned in thought.

What on Earth was going on?

Ruth's pendant swinging slightly around her neck caught Snow's attention, sparking in her mind something she hadn't imagined until this moment. Catching the chain between her thumb and forefinger with one hand she watched the pendant swing–east to west–over the palm of her other.



James and Thomas were already standing outside when their mother arrived.

"James! Thomas!" A wide smile adorned Ruth's face as she stepped down from the carriage and embraced each of her sons, both of them hugging her back tightly. Her attention was diverted when Eric and his parents came down the steps and they exchanged fond greetings.

James lead his mother to her room and Thomas made himself scarce, easily able to see that his older brother needed to talk with her alone.

"Mother," the prince began once they were out of earshot, "why did Snow say she adored you in the letter I received just this morning?"

"She's a very sweet young woman," Ruth commented airily, but the twitching at the corner of her mouth belied her casual tone.

He gently pulled her to a stop, his raised eyebrow attesting to how little he bought her excuse. "You went and saw her, didn't you?"

Stepping up to her door, Ruth blinked her eyes innocently. "Would I break the rules of mourning?"

"Yes," James stated bluntly.

Mischief sparkled in her brown eyes. "She's an incredible woman." She opened the door, grinning. "You and she will be extremely happy." His mother closed the door on his gaping face, still smiling broadly.



Snow knocked on Regina's door. Her stepmother hadn't been down for breakfast or lunch, so Snow volunteered to bring food up to the grieving woman. "Stepmother, it's Snow."

There was a long pause before she heard, "Come in."

She pushed the door open; Regina stood before the windows, her back to the princess. "I brought you something to eat, stepmother."

"Place it on the table." The elder woman gestured to the day table.

Snow did as she was told then turned to leave but stopped and turned back. "How are you feeling, stepmother?" She didn't know why she asked, but fully expected to be brushed-off or receive no reply at all.

"Heartsick," Regina answered simply.

The princess was stopped dead by the honest, straightforward answer, shocked at the lack of evasion or hostility. She knotted her hands together in front of her. "Is there anything I can do or get you to help?"

"No." The queen continued to gaze out the window. "Only time can heal what ails me."

Nothing was said for several moments; Snow took this as her dismissal and began to leave.

"Did I ever explain to you why I was so insistent on you marrying?"

Snow was stunned that her stepmother was actually volunteering anything to her. "No." She turned to face Regina.

The queen didn't look at her, just stared at the orange and red of fall starting to mottle the green trees. "You're very headstrong, stubborn."

The princess raised one eyebrow, unimpressed with this beginning of the conversation.

"You were insistent on not marrying, and I can understand wanting that control over your life, and that by law you aren't required to marry. But…" Her eyes lowered to the floor, taking a deep breath. "You don't truly realize how lonely being a spinster is, or how hard it is to receive the respect you're due from your male peers or how…vulnerable a single woman is, even a noble or royal."

Snow watched Regina's long fingers trace patterns over the window pane. "When I was your age I hadn't found true love and refused to marry at all. Mama–my stepmother, my father's second wife–had passed and my father…" her voice cracked slightly at the mention of Henry; she cleared her throat and continued. "He wanted me to be happy so he let me do as I chose." Her hand fell to her side again, fingers curling into a fist. "One man decided that my single status made me fair game."

It took a heartbeat for Snow to comprehend what her stepmother was alluding to; she gasped, hand flying to her mouth in shock.

Regina didn't even flinch, her face like stone. "A lesser man would've forced his daughter to marry her defiler, but Daddy instead went to King Leopold seeking justice on my behalf."

Snow had never heard this story; she'd been in Glenbriar visiting Aurora when her father met Regina, returning to the announcement of her father remarrying.

"The king saw to it that the man was punished to the full extent of the law. During this time I met and talked with your father several times and was surprised to find, even with our distance in ages, we got along well and I enjoyed his company." Her gaze dropped to her hands loosely clasped in front of her. "Your father felt that you were of an age when you particularly needed a mother and he proposed a marriage between us. He promised that he did not require us to consummate it if I did not wish to, but what he offered was kindness, care and respect."

She canted her head in Snow's direction, though still not looking at her. "You know that I'm not in love with your father, but I have always cared for him, and his gentleness and goodness were balm to the injuries of what was done to me." Regina stared back at the window. "I realized that as his wife I would be protected and, at least in this kingdom, even after his death as the king's widow I would have a protection I wouldn't otherwise be afforded. After meeting you I realized that your father was mistaken. You were basically full grown, a confident young woman, who'd already been successfully guided into adulthood." Finally Regina turned to face her. "You didn't need me. But…I began to realize that your father did."

The princess nodded; yes, this was entirely true.

A small smile lifted the queen's lips. "You're grown up, and even for all your protesting that you didn't want to marry I knew that you would. And when that day came you would have your own family to care for, who'd take up your time and attention along with the needs of the kingdom."

Snow's gaze dropped to her hands, she'd thought about this with increasing frequency since Charming came into her life.

"Your father needs a companion, someone who can help care for him and keep him company."

Emerald eyes lifted to meet the dark brown ones of her stepmother.

"And that is why I married your father. That is why I've pushed for you to meet so many men in search of a husband for you. Because no woman should have to live out her life alone if she does not wish it… And I wouldn't wish what happened to me on anyone."



Phillip was sick.

Sick of always hearing Prince Eric's name strung along with his betrothed's. Sick of hearing of upcoming events Aurora would be attending with the Seaside heir in attendance as well. Sick of reminiscences about the Glenbriar princess and Eric growing up.

For how their names were always conjoined they might as well be attached at the hip.

What the hell had she been talking about when she said she had no prospects?! Obviously she'd had one most of her life. Was it unrequited? Did they fear family disapproval? He doubted the second, her parents spoke of him very highly and with great affection.

Phillip had no interest in having a ménage a trois in his marriage bed. Absolutely no patience for another man between him and his wife, he thought, gritting his teeth. Even if it was just a memory…or regrets.


She approached her car, coffee in hand–she liked a late-night cup sometimes, he remembered, especially when she was feeling stressed or had a lot on her mind or had to stay up to grade papers. Taking a deep breath he called out, "Hey." He didn't have the right to say her name. It was borderline sacrilege that he even attempted to talk to her after all that he'd done.

Her dark head whipped around at his voice. "David." Her voice was breathless.

Oh, how he loved how she said his name, how it sent his heart skipping a beat and then racing. But he forced all that from his head, needing to get out what he'd come here to say, and whether or not she accepted it, she deserved his apology–she deserved a hell of a lot more than that, but this was what he could give her… "I was wrong…"

She turned to face him fully, giving him the benefit of her undivided attention. Gods, he didn't deserve her.

"About you, about me, about…" he looked around, trying to conjure up the right words to encompass what he meant and then gave a self-deprecating laugh, "everything." Gods, what an incomprehensible idiot and ass he'd been.

She opened her mouth to speak, but he quickly continued; he had to say all of it.

"I didn't believe in you, and I wish I had a good reason why…" Why in all nine hells had he ever questioned her innocence?! It made absolutely no sense looking back on it. He took another deep breath before continuing. "But it's like I keep making these wrong decisions, and I don't understand why they keep happening." Truly, so much of what he'd done since he'd woken up in regards to her was completely irrational in hindsight; it was as if every time a crucial decision or moment came up something…clouded his thinking…

She glanced down at her cup, seeming unsure how to take his confession.

He simply spoke from his heart, wholly and completely, no holding back, for the first time. "You know, ever since I woke up from that coma, my life hasn't made a lick of sense," he stared off to the side, mentally reviewing all of his actions and feelings over the last several months, and then his gaze returned to her, his true North Star, "except for you."

Surprise flared in her emerald eyes.

"What I'm feeling…" He grinned, letting the emotion momentarily overtake him, even if it would just make his heartbreak worse later, chuckling. "It's love…Mary Margaret." He allowed himself this possibly last time to say her sweet name.

She shifted, fortifying her defenses; he wasn't surprised, though it wasn't a good sign. "David, why are you here?"

He looked down, unable to meet her oh-so-direct gaze. "Because Kathryn put a down payment on an apartment in Boston."

Understanding dawned on her expression, but what she thought she knew was wrong.

"She's not gonna use it…"

A confused frown furrowed her brow.

"…but I am," he finished.

Her eyes snapped to his.

He smiled, hoping against hope that she might, might, give him even the barest centimeter of another chance, but knowing that he didn't deserve it. "Unless you give me a reason to stay."

There it was. Hanging between them. Was there any chance for them?

"David," she whispered.

Even as he hung on to hope, he could hear the sadness in her voice.

"I can't."

He nodded, forcing the smile to remain on his face even as his heart completely shattered in his chest. She didn't deserve to have to see his pain after all the agony he'd inflicted on her. He nodded his acceptance, that crooked smile was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to fake. All the while, tears he barely held back burned his eyes.

He was able to wait until she was in the car before he closed his eyes and a single tear escaped. At that he quickly left, not wanting her to see and feel guilty when he was the one who should bear the brunt of the pain. Maybe one day he'd be able to move on. Maybe one day the thought of her wouldn't rip his heart out anew. But he'd never be able to forgive himself.

James awoke to the wrenching pain in his heart. The stabbing grief of loss and crushing self-loathing. Burying his head in his hands, he focused on breathing in time with the crash of the waves.

Gods, this was hell. His very own personal hell replaying almost every time he closed his eyes to sleep. He'd thought that the time in Lochdubh when Snow had ignored him had been hellish; his dreams–nightmares–were hundreds of times worse.

Collapsing back onto the pillows, he threw his arm over his face, the smell clinging to the sleeve of his shirt had his lips curling in a slow smile. Snow's scent lingered on his clothing from the satchel and soap she'd left for him; having that constant reminder of her around him, clinging to his very skin, was soothing.

After several deep breaths and once his heartbeat slowed, James rose from bed and moved to the washstand. He poured the remaining water from the pitcher into the basin and splashed it on his face, blinking the residual moisture away after he dried his face with a towel. A glance at the French doors revealed that sunrise was likely still a couple hours off. Too restless to stay in his room, James pulled on his boots and leather doublet and headed down to the beach.

The rush and crash of the waves along with the crunch of the sand under his bare feet–as usual, he left his boots at the steps–helped to clear James' mind, brought a little more objectivity so that he could analyze the dream and his emotions. He couldn't imagine ever giving up on them, their love, ever, not even if Snow had. He'd fight for her with everything he had in him. He wouldn't just leave. James despised the weakness he felt in the dreams that took place in that strange world. He hated the innate knowledge that he'd irreparably hurt the woman he loved.

Hours passed, lost in his thoughts, James hardly noticed time going by and the sun rising. He looked up as he turned a corner around the palace and stopped dead in his tracks.

Eric was sitting on the beach kissing, very passionately, a pretty redhead…with a long green tail rather than legs.

Apparently he made some sort of noise because the couple jerked apart, both whipping around to see him staring slack-jawed.

"James!" Eric choked out in shock.

The mermaid disappeared into the waves, scales glinting before she sank out of sight.

The fair-haired prince turned his incredulous gaze back to his cousin. "What the hell, Eric?!"



Whiplash. Aurora had no idea where she'd ever heard the term, or what precisely it meant, but somehow she knew that it was apropos for how she felt. Phillip's moods were giving her whiplash. One moment things seemed to be going in a very positive direction, and then the next he'd suddenly close up, become remote, even angry, and seemingly for no reason.

"Aurora, dear," Queen Leah called from the head of the table over breakfast.

Reluctantly the princess allowed herself to be drawn from her thoughts. "Yes, Mother?"

"Eric and his family wrote. They've invited you to stay with them after the equinox in Everland."

A grin lit her face. "Wonderful! I can't wait to see them all!"

There was a clatter, drawing the entire table's attention.

Phillip had all but flung down his silverware. "I just remembered I have something I have to write to my father about." He tossed his napkin on the table, attention on King Stephan. "Please excuse me?"

The king casually gestured his permission and, like his wife, turned his attention back to his meal almost immediately.

Aurora didn't follow her parents' lead, eyes still locked on her betrothed's retreating form instead, reading the lines of tension in his shoulders. "Father," she wiped her mouth, "may I please be excused?"

Again the king absently gave his permission with a smile.

The princess rose from the table and strode purposefully after Phillip.



James was dearly wishing for a large, stiff drink once his cousin had explained the entirety of the "situation." "Eric…" He scrubbed a hand over his face. "Gods."

"Please don't tell me how impossible and stupid and dangerous this is," the dark-haired prince groaned. "I've gotten enough of that from 'Rora, Snow and the others."

His cousin snorted. "All of those are fairly apt in this situation," James muttered. "What are you two going to do? I mean," he gestured helplessly, "this can't end well."

"I know!" Eric snapped, expression tight. "We know. But…" He broke off with a frustrated sigh.

The sandy-haired man watched the other for several moments. "Hell…"

The Seaside prince snorted. "Yeah…hell…"



Snow was at Granny and Red's first thing in the morning, breaking her fast with them rather than at the castle. Immediately after she'd insisted on being put to work and had been handed a knife and a bushel of apples to peel and cut. Red settled next to her to debone the fish for the borders' lunch. The fish was fresh, not even a whiff of decomposition, but Snow's stomach instantly rebelled. She rushed from the kitchen, hand clamped over her mouth.

Red, concerned for her friend, dashed after her, flying outside in time to see the princess empty her stomach into the bushes, which she'd reached just as she got sick.

Snow clung to the side of the building as she tried to catch her breath after finally dry heaving a few times. The back of her free hand was pressed to her mouth, frame trembling from the exertion.


Taking one more steadying breath, the elder dark-haired woman lifted her head, meeting her sister's concerned gaze.

"Are you all right? What's wrong?" Red laid an uncharacteristically tentative hand on Snow's arm.

Drawing in more fresh air and willing her traitorous stomach to settle, the princess smiled at the younger woman as brightly as she could manage. "I'm fine."

Red wasn't convinced. "Let's get you inside. I'm going to send for Doc." She tugged on her friend's arm.

Snow dug in her heels. "I'm fine, it's not necessary to bother Doc. The smell of the fish turned my stomach," she insisted. "Just a weak stomach today."

Hazel eyes narrowed to slits. "Snow, some days I think your stomach is made of cast iron."

She lifted a shoulder in a carefully careless shrug. "I'm having an off day."

Red's eyes became the size of saucers. "Snow," her voice was a fierce whisper, "when was the last time you had your monthly?"

Snow smoothed back a few dark curls that'd slipped free from the knot atop her head, struggling to shrug nonchalantly. "A couple of months ago."

"Oh goddess," Red groaned, scrubbing a hand over her face. "Snow, are you pregnant?" she finally asked bluntly.

The princess rubbed her hands over her stomach in a soothing and protective gesture, gazing down at it. "I haven't confirmed it, but I feel there isn't much doubt about it."

Her best friend sighed in exasperation. "How long have you suspected?"

She shrugged. "A few days." Her gaze finally lifted to her friend's. "I know it sounds…silly, but…I've been torn over seeing Doc. I want James to be the first to know, but I don't want to tell him if it isn't true…"

Red rolled her eyes, firmly taking hold of Snow's arm. "Well, I'm making the decision for you. You're going to see Doc…now."



Aurora strode after Phillip, not willing to let him get away with his behavior at the table, and more than ready to confront him about his mercurial moods. "When I saw him in Everland, James said not to judge you solely by your actions. He implied that something 'tragic,' as he put it, happened to you," she yelled at his back.

He stopped dead in his tracks and then spun on his heel, covering the distance between them in half the time it originally took to cross it. Her betrothed leaned down, right into her face, though she wasn't cowed by him in the least, fury lancing his tone as he spoke. "James has a big mouth and shouldn't poke his nose where it doesn't belong."

The blonde glared up at him. "He is a good friend–one, by the way, that I still don't understand what you've done to deserve–and was trying to convince me to give you a chance. He wanted us to have the opportunity to actually have at least an amicable marriage, hell maybe even a good one, since neither of us seems to be able to find a good excuse not to get married!"

The muscles in his jaw visibly jumped, showing how tightly he was gritting his teeth. "It isn't your business."

Aurora set her mouth stubbornly. "I'm your betrothed, likely your future wife…I should think that makes it my business."

His lips pressed into a thin line, glaring at her for a few moments longer before he turned on his heel.

"Why don't you just do us both a favor and find some other woman?" she demanded.

Phillip spun back around. "I already tried that!"

Her jaw dropped. "What?"

His expression had immediately shuttered as soon as the words left his mouth, obviously regretting it. His jaw worked again. "Why don't you do us both the favor and marry Eric?" His tone was mocking as he said the other prince's name.

Blue eyes narrowed into icy slits. "Eric is my brother." Shock lit his face. "Even if he wasn't in love with another woman I wouldn't marry him. And we weren't talking about me."

Emotions flickered across his face faster than a kaleidoscope before settling into an unreadable blankness. "Well, we're not talking about me either." Phillip spun on his heel and swept from the room.

Aurora watched her betrothed stalk off, mouth set in a grim line, unable to help thinking that this was the end of any hope for them.



Red paced in the hallway outside of the room she and Granny had lent Snow and Doc for the examination. The older woman hadn't been surprised when her two granddaughters asked for the room and reluctantly explained the need for it. She'd simply handed Snow the key and told Red to fetch the physician. Doc came with little questioning, when told what the princess needed he'd been very shocked, stammering over his words, but soon recovered and agreed.

If felt like forever to Red. Granny was just sitting in a chair she'd brought into the hall for the wait, calmly knitting with cream-colored yarn.

Finally the door opened, and the two women's attention was instantly riveted.

Doc, carrying his medical bag, nodded for them to go inside. "She's ready to see you."

Red stepped forward. "Is she…?"

He just gestured for them to go inside, not answering.

Grandmother and granddaughter shared a glance before going into the room.

Snow stood before the full-length mirror, watching her hand run gently over her abdomen.

"You're pregnant."

The white-clad princess turned at her sister's statement. "Yes." A smile curled her lips, she knew that some would be far from pleased by this, but she couldn't be anything other than ecstatically happy. Snow wished Charming was there right that moment, that he was the one she was sharing this news with. But telling the two women she considered family was perhaps the next best thing. She looked back down at her still flat stomach, palms gently caressing where her baby was, hers and Charming's. "We're going to have a child."

Red wanted to feel more disapproving, but was having a very difficult time doing so, seeing her best friend so overjoyed, and honestly the news of a baby, regardless of how–or more appropriately when–it was conceived, was always reason to rejoice. A sentiment her grandmother obviously shared.

Granny's eyes sparkled with happiness. "Well, it might not be the ideal way to have this come about, but this is most definitely wonderful news!"

The youngest woman wondered if her grandmother was thinking the same thing she was, about the tall, golden-haired woman who had all of the stubbornness of both her parents. Red had been wondering what it would be like to have Emma be the niece she was meant to be…maybe now she'd find out.

Snow grinned up at them with unrestrained joy, and then she looked down at her hands still cradling her abdomen, and spoke more quietly, attention on her unborn child, "Hello, little girl."

The innkeeper's granddaughter frowned in confusion. "You can't possibly know that it's a girl." Snow had shown no signs that she remembered, how could she know she'd have a daughter?

The princess looked up, a knowing smile on her lips.



After talking with Eric, James had lost his appetite and instead of going to breakfast continued to walk the beach. Gods, what was going to happen to Eric? If Triton found out about him and Ariel…

"Trying to burn that sand into glass?"

His head snapped up at the sardonic question.

Thomas and Liam were walking toward him, his general smirking. "You were glaring at it so fiercely."

The elder prince rolled his eyes. "How can I help you?"

His brother and general glanced at each other, debating whether or not to pursue their inquiries, but apparently decided against asking what was wrong.

"We need to discuss our travel plans." Thomas crossed his arms over his chest. "With Mother here we can't exactly just stay in Everland for however many days you and Snow want to spend together."

"I've been thinking about that," James assured him. "You two head back to Riverdon with Mother, you can go by way of Everland if you wish. I will warn you, little brother, she managed to spend an afternoon with Snow while she was there last, even with the mourning period. I wouldn't be surprised if she manages to ferret out your relationship with Ella and has a sit-down with her as well."

The younger prince paled.

"And what will you be doing in the meanwhile?" Liam questioned, eyeing his liege.

"I'd planned to visit Glenbriar after seeing Snow, on my way to talk with Midas. I wrote to King Stephan and Queen Leah requesting to have the visit moved up. I'm going to Glenbriar, it's not even half a day's journey from here so I will be safe travelling on my own, though Eric said he might join me when I mentioned it. Aurora is like a sister to him apparently."

"Good!" the general said with mocking cheerfulness. "Then I'll join you after I see your mother, Thomas and Belle safely to Riverdon."

James grimaced, obviously wanting to argue but knowing all too well how futile it would be. "Fine," he sighed resignedly. "From there, I'll go to meet Snow, which you," he glared pointedly at Liam, "will not be attending."

He smirked. "Not really my style. I'll head to Everbrooke."

The elder prince nodded. "After our stay there we'll be going to Midas'…and the truly difficult part."

Thomas, having regained his color once again, grimaced. "I really don't envy you that."

"Would anybody?" James pointed out wryly.



Snow noticed over the following days that quiet changes were unobtrusively made around the castle in relation to her. Her wine was discreetly replaced with grape juice, certain foods were served less, Lucy closed her bed curtains every night so that the dawn wouldn't wake her and she slept later… So many small but important changes, done without her father or stepmother realizing it. She guessed that most of the key members of the staff knew at this point, but were helping her hide it until she was ready to tell her father and Regina. She had no intention of doing so until after she'd first told Charming and they were safely engaged–a ring on her finger would go a long way to easing what ire her father would feel.

Lying in bed, James' latest letter in one hand, the fingers of her other traced patterns over her flat stomach. In the letter he told her of his plans for when he'd be able to meet her, when his mother, brother and Liam would be stopping through–she'd pass this information on to Red and Ella if they didn't already know–and his promise to break with Midas right after their time together.

She pressed her palm over her baby. "Just a few days, sweetheart. Then we'll get to tell your daddy." Snow grinned. "He's going to be so excited when I tell him about you! Knowing him he'll be making plans for all the things you're going to do together, and all of the things he's going to teach you." A soft laugh escaped her. "He'll probably have a sword made for you before you're even born!" She whispered conspiratorially to her daughter, "But I'm going to make sure you have a bow in your hands just as quickly, if not sooner."

Curling on her side, Snow continued to rub her belly, gaze soft. "I love you so much, my sweet girl. And I will tell you every day. You will never doubt that you're loved by your father and I. I promise."



"What is wrong with him?"

Flora quietly weathered the storm of her goddaughter's temper, pouring the water into the teapot.

Aurora stalked pack and forth across the kindly fairy's sitting room. "He gets all jealous over Eric–which makes no sense, since I could never see Eric that way! But then he won't tell me what James was talking about–and I know that whatever it is it's really bothering him." She spun on heel to face Flora. "'I already tried that!' What does that even mean?!" Crossing her arms, the princess resumed her pacing. "The gall of the man to imply that I'm not as invested in making this work!"

"Aurora, dear," the elder woman calmly interjected, bringing the princess to an immediate stop. "You're making me dizzy with your pacing. Please, sit down."

Automatically Aurora did as she was told, she might not be a little girl anymore but she still respected and obeyed her parents and godmothers.

Flora delicately poured them each a cup. "Drink, Aurora. It's mint, your favorite."

The princess blushed, taking a sip of the tea that always seemed to help calm her, then setting down her cup again she took a deep breath. "What am I going to do, Flora?" Aurora rubbed her forehead. "I-I really think…that Phillip and I can…make our relationship work, but…" She gritted her teeth. "If he keeps pushing me away, walling me out, it never will."

Folding her hands, the fairy leaned forward. "Do you want that? Do you want to make it work between you? And I don't mean for the sake of the kingdom or because of your parents."

Aurora thoughtfully watched her finger as it traced the rim of her cup. "I do," she finally decided. "I– Somehow I…I know that we could be good together. Happy. The times when things are going well between us...I'm–I'm actually happy, and he seems so happy. We laugh and teasingly needle each other."

"Then my advice is, don't give up. If this marriage is something you truly want, fight for it." Flora covered one of her goddaughter's hands with her own. "Who knows, perhaps Prince James can help when he arrives tomorrow?"

The young woman nodded slowly, remembering his promise; maybe he could shed some light on why things seemed to be going nowhere.


On the road between Seaside and Glenbriar

Liam, Ruth and Belle left right after breakfast and James saw them off, watching until their carriage disappeared.

After lunch James and Eric headed out for Glenbriar, it was a short ride and they would be there well before dinnertime. For the first hour of their journey they rode in a loaded silence, the kiss James had walked in on thick in the air between them.

Finally, unable to take the suspense anymore, Eric broke it. "So you're not going to tell anyone about Ariel and I?"

James gave a weary sigh. "Honestly Eric, I'd have no idea what to say." His grip tightened on Cain's reins. "This is a nightmare situation of epic proportions. I have no interest in getting involved really. Hell, I'd prefer to forget what I saw all together if that were possible." He swiped a hand across his eyes as if he could wipe the memory away.

"I know all of the reasons that it's impossible and the worst idea imaginable…but I love her."

The sandy-haired prince clenched his jaw. Being in love in a complicated situation was certainly something he could relate to…though Eric and Ariel's put the drama of his own love life to shame.

"You're of the Seaborn line, James, do you know of any way we can make this work?" Eric begged.

"Eric…" The elder prince shook his head. "There's just… I've known humans and merpeople to be attracted, smitten even, but being in love…there's no precedent for that. I'm sorry."

Eric blew out a weary breath. "I guess we'll just…have to hope and try to find a way."

"And if I can, I will help you," James swore.

The younger prince gave him a wry, but grateful smile.



As Snow sat at Ella's table helping peel potatoes for the dwarfs' dinner, the blonde set a cup in front of her friend.

"Tea." Ella took a seat across from her, a cup beside her as well, and went back to the potatoes.

The princess cocked an eyebrow, setting her knife aside and, cupping the tea between her palms and breathed the aroma in deeply, then cast a level look at the other woman. "Chamomile?"

"It's very soothing," her friend commented off-handedly, keeping her gaze focused on her work.

"Ella," she folded her hands and rested them on the table, "you hate chamomile."

Blue eyes rose to meet green, a grin pulling at the blonde's lips. "It's very good for upset stomachs as well."

Snow pressed her lips together, trying to contain a smile. "Red told you, didn't she?"

Ella raised one eyebrow, a broad grin on her face. "That she and I are going to be aunties sooner rather than later?"

The blonde reached across the table, covering her friend's hands with her own, both laughing helplessly with joy.

This was the scene that Thomas walked in on.

"Thomas!" Ella cried out, face alight. She shot to her feet, throwing herself into his arms, his own joyful mirth ringing as he wrapped her in a tight embrace.

He grinned down at her before reluctantly tearing his gaze away to look apologetically at the princess. "I'm sorry, Snow, I hadn't realized you were here."

She chuckled, shaking her head as she rose from the table, basket of potatoes propped on one hip and her cup of tea in her other hand. "It's perfectly fine, your family and I seem to have issues with keeping the mourning." Snow grinned at the still-embracing couple as she passed them. "I'm going over to the dwarfs'. Good to see you again, Thomas."

The couple watched her retreat before turning back to each other.

"I thought we were meeting later, for dinner?" Ella inquired.

"Well," Thomas watched his hand skim down her arms to lace their fingers together, "I couldn't wait any longer to see you and…" he took a deep breath, bringing his gaze to hers, "I want you to come and meet my mother." The words came out in a rush; his eyes gleamed with eager anticipation.

Ella smiled sweetly. "Well, I'm sure she wants to meet all of your friends–"

"No, Ella," he countered easily, gaze locked with hers. "I don't want you to meet her as my friend. I want you to meet her as the woman I love, the woman I'm going to marry."

Her breath caught. "Thomas…are-are you sure? I-I mean…what if she doesn't like me? I'm a commoner; she probably wouldn't want you to marry me–"

He stopped her ramble with a kiss, cupping her cheek as he pulled away. "She's going to love you."

"How do you know?" Ella bit her lip.

A wide grin spread across his face. "Because I do." He began drawing her toward the door by the hands. "And she's common born herself."

Her eyes became wide as saucers. "She is?"

"Yes." Thomas pressed her palms to his chest. "So, will you meet her?"

Curling her hands into the fabric of his cloak, Ella took a deep breath. "Yes. I would be honored to meet your mother."



James noticed as he greeted Phillip that his friend was watching Aurora hugging Eric, his jaw set and frustration in his gaze. The fair-haired prince grabbed his friend by the arm and all but dragged him off through the castle. "You haven't told her," the non-question was rapped out in a fiercely annoyed tone.

"And if I haven't?" Phillip snapped back.

"Damn it, Phillip!" He pulled them to a stop and spun on his friend. "Are you trying to sabotage your betrothal?!"

"What business is it of yours, James?" the dark-haired prince snarled back as he slammed the door of the small sitting room behind him.

James clenched his teeth in frustration. "Maybe not directly, but I've only ever wanted your happiness. Aside from Thomas, you are one of my two best friends in this world; I want to see you truly happy." He swept his arms in a wide gesture. "And there's never going to be a chance of that if you don't let go of your past! If you don't let Aurora in enough to understand! She deserves to know!"

Phillip's expression was flat, stubborn. "I made that mistake once before."

"Gods and goddesses preserve us!" James cast his eyes skyward, pleading for patience. "Aurora isn't Helen, Phillip!"

"Who's Helen?"

Both princes' heads whipped around at the voice from the door.

Aurora stood in the now open doorway, arms crossed over her chest and gaze guarded but with hints of desperate hope flickering in it.

"Excuse me." James shot his friend a meaningful glance before heading to the door. Aurora stepped into the room so that he could pass, but he stopped just at the threshold and looked back at the other prince. "Just to let you know, I promised her that if you don't tell her…I will."

Fury flashed into his eyes.

The Seaborn heir shrugged with a studied carelessness. "Just something to think about." He shut the door behind himself.

Aurora turned to face Phillip. "Who's Helen?"

His hands clenched convulsively as he stalked over to the window. "A woman I loved. A woman I thought loved me." He locked his jaw. "But it was a lie. She broke my heart."

The blonde princess could read all the pain raging through him despite his understated words. "I'm sorry. When was this?"

"It doesn't matter," he said tightly.

She compressed her lips in a razor thin line. "Why?"

Phillip frowned in confusion as he turned to face her. "Why what?"

Frustration edging toward anger flashed in her blue eyes. "Why do you brush me off? Why do you refuse to tell me really how you feel, and just play it off? Why won't you trust me even an inch? Why won't you give this–us–even a sliver of hope of working out?" She rapid fired the questions, not giving him a chance to answer. "And if you truly don't want to try to make our betrothal work, why don't you just have the guts to say so, and at least have the decency to stop leading me on?!" The last words were spat out just before Aurora spun on her heel and stormed out the door.

At a complete loss, Phillip could do nothing but watch the blonde–the first person to get under his skin in longer than he'd care to admit–stalk away. Trying to ignore the ache in his chest and the voice at the back of his mind screaming at him to go after her.

"And you like to say that I'm the idiot." James appeared in the doorway with an obscenely annoyed look on his face. "Gods, Phillip you're an idiot. All you have to do is talk to her!"

The dark-haired prince's mouth twisted in a sneer. "And what would you know of it? Of difficulties in love?! Over twenty years later and you're still with your first love!" He shoved James out of the way, escaping the room. "What do you know of any of it?!"



As they made their way to the Inn, for the first time Ella truly saw what Thomas was wearing; it brought a bright smile to her face. "That's the cloak I made for you." She reached out, running her fingers along the edge of the fabric.

Thomas grinned, catching her hand and bringing it up to his lip. "It's my favorite."

She tried to give him a chastising look, but the smile she couldn't wipe off her face spoiled it. "I only just gave it to you."

The prince tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. "You made it for me, and gave me this clasp," he touched the item with his free hand, "these make it my favorite. And I love it."

Ella pressed her pink cheek against his shoulder. "What did I do to deserve you?" she asked in the softest of voices.

He kissed the top of her head. "I ask myself the same thing every day," he murmured into her hair.

It was only minutes later that Granny and Red's home and work came into sight; Ella's heart was pounding and her palm trembled against Thomas' arm.

He covered her hand with his, leaning in to whisper in her ear, "It's going to be fine. Mother will love you."

It took several, deep, bracing breaths before Ella was able to let Thomas led her inside.

Ruth was chatting with Granny over a cup of tea in the kitchen. From the moment they were properly introduced when Ruth passed through on the way to Seaside, the pair had hit it off famously. The two women looked over as the couple came through the door, the queen's sharp eyes instantly took in her son's hand entwined with the pretty blonde's beside him; her lips curved into a delighted smile.

Thomas led the nervous young woman to stand with him before Ruth. "Mother," his gaze went to his beloved, "this is Ella de Barbarrac. Ella, my mother, Queen Ruth of Seaborn."

Before the blonde could drop into a courtesy and render the proper greeting, the queen stood, capturing the young woman's free hand with a warm grin. "I'm very happy to meet you, Ella." Twinkling chestnut eyes glanced at her son before returning to Ella. "I'm so glad my son found you."

The nerves fluttering in her stomach settled with Ruth's warm welcome, the young woman gripped her hand back tightly. "So am I."

Ruth drew Ella over to sit beside her at the table, directing Thomas across it from her. "Please, tell me everything about yourself," she requested while Granny quietly set two more cups on the table and slipped unobtrusively out, letting her newest adopted granddaughter get to know her future mother-in-law.



James found Aurora pacing the terrace, frustration vibrating through every inch of her frame, upon hearing his footsteps she spun on him.

"Has he always been this infuriating? Don't answer that!" She held up a hand to forestall any response and resumed pacing, violet skirts billowing around her legs.

A single eyebrow rose on James' forehead as he entwined his hands behind his back, restraining his amusement. "Phillip has...trust issues."

The princess shot him a droll look.

"He was never of a trusting nature, but after her... Well, let's just say that his father aside, the only ones he really trusts can be counted on one hand...literally."

With that last word she abruptly stopped, staring at James. "You know, he was jealous of Eric."

He shrugged. "Not surprising."

"It's Eric!" the princess countered, exasperation saturating her tone.

"You know, his being jealous at all should tell you something," he commented off-handedly.

"What's that?" she scoffed.

"That he cares enough to be jealous."

That stopped her dead in her tracks.

The prince leaned casually back against the railing. "If he didn't truly care about you he wouldn't care about any other men in your life."

Crystalline blue eyes stared at him for several long heartbeats.

"What did she do to him?" Her voice was barely above a whisper but the plea was loud and clear.

James set his mouth in a grim line. "Helen is a part of Phillip's past that none of us like to revisit. She is a member of the Agrabahan court, the last three years–since it happened–Jasmine has conveniently 'forgotten' to invite her to most social functions and never to any that Phillip attends." He cast a wryly amused look at Aurora. "I think she was actually looking for a reason to keep her away anyway."

Aurora perched gracefully beside him on the rail, raptly attentive.

"Phillip met Helen at a gala in Agrabah–I can't remember which one, I think I blocked it out. She was a very beautiful woman and immediately caught his eye. Her wit and charm lured him in and captured him." He took a deep breath, meeting Aurora's gaze directly. "I won't lie to you or sugarcoat it, they became lovers, and Phillip fell in love with her."

James paused for a moment, thoughtful. "Phillip doesn't do things by halves, when he loves it's complete and unconditional and head-long." His gaze shifted away, focusing on nothing. "They were together for over a year, he proposed and she said yes." His jaw clenched. "He was a week away from breaking with your parents when he returned unexpectedly early from a visit with me to find her in bed with another man."

Aurora sucked in a breath.

He nodded, still not looking at her. "He found out that it wasn't an isolated incident either, that she'd taken many men into her bed when he was away. From of those very men he found out how she spoke of him in his absence... How disdainful she was. How she reveled in his 'foolishness,' as she called it." Finally his gaze turned to hers. "He was given a rude awakening to how much of a lie her declarations of love were. She'd only wanted him for his wealth and power and position. Since then he's pretty much retreated entirely behind his walls of sarcasm and cynicism."

The princess stared unseeingly into the distance.

James let the silence reign for a while, letting her absorb what he'd told her.

"How can I get past that?" she finally asked, blue eyes turning to meet his own. "How can I reach him through all of that bitterness and pain?"

Pleased to hear that she wasn't giving up, just discouraged, the prince impulsively leaned over and in a brotherly gesture kissed her forehead. "I have a feeling that if anyone can do it, you can."

Aurora closed her eyes, absorbing the gesture and words of faith, praying that she was truly equal to the task ahead of her.


James let out a weary sigh as he entered his room, the emotional wild ride of helping deal with his cousin's love life as well as his best friend's catching up to him.

A cheerful chirp caught his attention. A tiny blue bird was hopping atop his bed, trying to draw his attention to a letter resting on the quilt. Grin spreading across his face, James approached Snow's letter, knowing that it was just what he needed.

The bird fluttered its wings, heading off through the window once the prince had picked up the letter. James sat down on his bed, back against the headboard. His fingers traced the unicorn that danced along the wax before breaking the seal and unfolding the paper.

My Charming,

I'm sorry you had to find out about Eric and Ariel the way you did, but thank you for understanding that I couldn't break the confidence. I have no idea how to deal with or remedy the situation anymore than I did nearly six months ago when Aurora and Eric told Red, Gaspard and I. I think that all we can do–at least for now–is be there for him.

He sighed, knowing she was right, but desperately wishing that there was something he could do.

How are Aurora and Phillip doing? Last I heard from her a few days ago was that she's torn between liking him and utter frustration with him. From what little she told me I actually think he could be good for her. If he could stop driving her crazy long enough for her to realize it.

James chuckled, agreeing with her assessment and praying that his life-long friend and his betrothed would be able to work everything out between them.

The plan you suggested for seeing each other works for me, beyond the fact that I would prefer it if you were already here or I was there. I can't wait to see you, my charming love. I have a tiny surprise for you when I do. You'll like it. We keep doing things so out of order.

This threw James for a loop. What on Earth did his Snow mean?

I love you, Charming. I'm counting the days and hours until I see you again. Pass on my love and best wishes to Aurora. And tell Phillip I look forward to meeting him again as adults. Also, tell him that if he breaks Aurora's heart he will have several swords, knives and bows aiming for him.

All of my heart and soul,

Your Snow

James sat back against the headboard. Yes, his love's words were exactly what he'd needed. But what in the names of all the gods and goddesses did she mean about a "tiny surprise" and referencing their occasional inside joke about doing things "out of order?"


Phillip's belongings were packed and in his carriage, the king, queen and princess were likely already waiting to bid him farewell at the main entrance. The prince strode through the halls, after all of the emotional upheaval of this visit he was more than ready to return home where things were certainly less confusing. And where perhaps he could gain some distance from the beautiful princess who'd gotten past his façade.

A deceptively small hand grabbed his arm and yanked him into an alcove off of the main hall.

"What the–" He spun to find the determined expression of his betrothed. "Aurora?!" He was so shocked that when she shoved him against the wall and crashed her lips to his he couldn't respond immediately.

Aurora pulled away before he could respond, hands tightly grasping the front of his dark leather doublet, eyes locked on his. "I'm going to fight for this. For us." Using her grip, she pushed herself back. "So you'd better get that Helen out of your head and be ready." Head chin high, she turned on her heel and left him to join her parents on the front steps.

It was several moments before Phillip's senses fully returned to him, though he continued to gaze after where his betrothed had disappeared. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Gods, what had just happened? After several more deep breaths he managed to force himself away from the wall that'd been supporting him and to head to the entrance. He'd been planning on riding in the carriage, but now…maybe a ride was in order.

Above him, at the railing for the second floor James smirked.


So, thoughts? O.O Next chapter we're going to see more Snowing! :-D Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you guys think!

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